Back in 2016, memes started flying about how this was the worst year in recent memory.
(I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.)
But my husband and I had to agree. Early in 2016, we lost twin daughters after their premature births. Suffice it to say, the rest of the year was the worst we had gone through.
Yet on New Year’s Eve, I remember looking back and thinking: we made it! So many people told us that marriages don’t survive the loss of a child, but we had weathered that storm together.
Now enter 2020. For most of us, this has been far from the greatest year on record. While mental wellbeing, physical health, job security, financial resources, and social connections all have taken a hit, the toll of the pandemic on relationships is one of the hardest parts — and the least discussed.
Our marriage is no exception. We’ve been stuck at home for six straight months, working our two jobs with no child care for five kids. Not the best recipe for a flourishing relationship.
I know we’re lucky: we still have work; we still have a roof over our heads; we still have money in the bank to feed our kids. But I also know that the pandemic has been grueling on our marriage.
Statistics speak the truth that divorce rates are soaring, especially among newly married couples. But few of us are talking about how marriages are suffering during quarantine — and real advice about how to help our relationship survive this stress (let alone thrive!) feels scarce.
So when I started wondering how to nurture my own marriage, I looked back on how we handled 2016. What lessons could I draw from how we got through the hardest year we’ve had together?
Carve out time to be together
Find a few moments each day to reconnect, even if it’s date nights on the front step or coffee breaks between Zoom calls. My husband and I used to go on “grief date nights” after our support group, and scarfing tacos after processing feelings was the perfect release valve. Now we just eat cake-in-a-cup after the kids go to bed because we won’t have a babysitter until 2021, but hey! any good moment together counts. Especially if one or both of you are essential workers dealing with heightened workplace stress, checking in during the whirl of your weekdays can make a big difference.
Make time to be apart
Yes, this is the opposite from the advice above, but Covid brings a jumble of contradictions. Give each other the space you need as introverts or extroverts. If you and your spouse are together 24/7 working from home, this is extra important. My husband and I found out the hard way that we both need time to ourselves — to work out, take a walk, get in the garden, or read a book. Otherwise one or both of us will implode by week’s end.
Cope how you can
In 2016, we quickly learned that we grieved differently: I needed community and conversation, his grief craved quiet and solitude. Dealing with the quarantine brought variations on this theme: he copes with the craziness by digging in his garden and building furniture in the garage; I turn to texting friends or posting on social media. When we give each other the freedom we need to cope, our marriage stays healthier.
Tune out together
Take a drive and crank the music. Zone out to a new show at the end of the night. After months of close companionship, you may find yourself running out of words. Don’t feel pressured to talk all the time or make every moment magical; enjoy being together in small ways.
Connect with others
You can’t rely on your significant other to fill all your needs. So take inventory of how you can draw support from friends or family to handle your stress or anxiety right now. Can you FaceTime a friend or call your mom on a walk? Get together with friends for a socially distanced visit? Marriage is strengthened by the people who hold us up.
Get help when you need it
We wouldn’t have made it through our hardest year without a good therapist and a great support group. There’s no shame in seeking out the professional support that you or your marriage may need. One bright side of 2020 is the increased availability of mental health resources online like telehealth visits and virtual support groups. The help you need is out there.
Try praying together
Truth be told, we’ve sometimes found it awkward or hard to pray in our marriage. But when we were dealing with the worst grief, prayer flowed easily. Right now, each new day seems to bring another unjust tragedy, daunting disaster, or political outrage. But we laugh together at dinner when I pipe up with “Jesus, could you please fix the Covid?” (just in case no one has prayed the obvious yet today). Lifting our eyes higher brings perspective and peace when the going gets rough.
Laugh whenever you can
Stupid reality shows? GIF text wars? Your favorite movie from college? Whatever makes you and your partner laugh, cultivate that. Dark humor that only the two of you find funny can be a saving grace when the world seems bleak. Private jokes step in when words fail, and laughter might be the best medicine we have — until there’s a vaccine.
Covid might not be the worst thing you’ll go through together. But for most of us, this year has been rough — and it’s not over yet.
Yet the words of our marriage vows can still ring true. We promised to love each other “for worse… for poorer… in sickness… till death do us part.” Until the happy halves roll around again (better, richer, healthier) here’s to sticking together and hoping for better days ahead.